Tribes, Politicians Discuss Internet Gambling

People have mixed feelings about the expansion of internet gambling. Recently Native American tribal leaders filled the Senate Indian Affairs Room for the annual summit. This year many tribal leaders expressed concerns about the expansion of online gambling. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Jon Kyl have sponsored a bill that will legalize online poker. Unfortunately under Reid’s bill other forms of gambling such as internet bingo, keno and other casino games would remain illegal. Reid has said the easiest way to get the bill passed is to attach it to a must pass bill like defense authorization.

Politicians reassured the assembled tribal leaders, some sporting full tribal regalia that any change in the gambling laws will take tribal interests into account. Virginia Rep. Jim Moran told the audience “If you’re going to do Internet gaming, do it fairly. Don’t try to pull something where Las Vegas casinos get preferential treatment. We don’t want them to get any advantage, even if it’s from their perspective.”  The tribes have good reason to worry. Over the years state compacts granting tribes the rights to operate casinos have resulted in the largest advances in tribal welfare. The 1988 Indian Gaming Act requires that federally recognized tribes be granted advantages over non-tribal gaming interests.

Many gaming analysts say that online poker will not lure many gamblers away from live casinos since casinos provide more entertainment for players. If internet poker is legalized nationally players would have a wide choice of websites not run by the tribes. One expert pointed out that gaming is not an equal opportunity business for tribes. For example the 480-member Shakopee tribe has grown rich because of their location near the twin cities while the Oglala Sioux in South Dakota remain poor. Online gambling eliminates the disadvantage caused by physical location. Anyone with broadband access can log on and play instantly. Having a land based casino operation is the best preparation for setting up a virtual casino.

At first most tribes were opposed to the idea of internet gambling. The National Indian Gaming Association has commissioned urging tribes to take advantage of the opportunities offered by internet gambling. NIGA executive director Jason Giles told a gathering earlier this year “We all realize the future of gambling is the younger generation, with online gambling and mobile apps.” Tribes with large casino operations are intrigued by the possibilities of online gambling.